Ganesh Chaturthi or Ganesh Utsav is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Ganesh (the elephant-headed God of Wisdom and Prosperity and the son of Lord Shiva and Ma Parvati). This festival falls on the fourth day (Chaturthi) of the bright fortnight of Bhadrapada month of the Hindu calendar around August-September. It is celebrated all across India and is the biggest festival in Maharashtra. Ganesh Chaturti is celebrated for a period of ten days. Fasting, feasting and distribution of sweets offered to Lord Ganesh are important aspects of Ganesh chaturthi rituals in India. Hindus pray to images of Lord Ganesha. Praying to Lord Ganesh during the festival will bring good luck and prosperity for the family.
Started by Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaja, the great Maratha ruler, to promote culture and nationalism, the festival was revived by Lokmanya Tilak (a freedom fighter) to spread the message of freedom struggle and to defy the British who had banned public assemblies. The festival gave the Indians a feeling of unity and revived their patriotic spirit and faith.
The Celebrations and Festivities:
The festival is so popular that the preparations begin several months in advance. Before the start of the festival, people start to buy Ganesh idols. A life-like clay model of Lord Ganesha is made 2-3 months prior to the day of Ganesh Chaturthi.Upon bringing the idol home, the Hindus start to decorate the idol with flower garlands and lights. The devotees chant prayers and during the prayers, flowers, rice & coins are used. After the ceremony, sweets and fruits are offered to guests. Thus Ganesha statues are installed in street corners and in homes.
For 10 days, from Bhadrapad Shudh Chaturthi to the Ananta Chaturdashi, Ganesha is worshipped.On the day of the festival, the Ganesha idol is placed on raised platforms in homes or in elaborately decorated outdoor tents for people to view and pay their homage. On this day, People meditate on the stories connected with Lord Ganesha early in the morning. Then, after taking a bath, go to the temple and do the prayers of Lord Ganesha. Offer Him some coconut and sweet pudding. Pray with faith and devotion that He may remove all the obstacles that you experience on the spiritual path. Worship Him at home, too.
Finally, the image is taken through the streets in a procession accompanied with dancing, singing, to be immersed in a river or the sea symbolizing a ritual see-off of the Lord in his journey towards his abode in Kailash while taking away with him the misfortunes of all man. All join in this final procession shouting "Ganapathi Bappa Morya, Purchya Varshi Laukariya" (O father Ganesha, come again early next year). After the final offering of coconuts, flowers and camphor is made, people carry the idol to the river to immerse it.